Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson portray three men from very different walks of life, facing a mid-life crisis, a work-life crisis and a no-life crisis. In the biggest competition of their lives, they undertake an unforgettable trek through North America, engaging in hilarious and bizarre adventures and forming friendships that will last a lifetime!
If you know anything about 'The Big Year,' you've probably asked yourself, "How can a movie about birding (a.k.a. bird-watching) be entertaining?" Well, it can't. It's not. And as you may have assumed, it's about as much fun as bird-watching. Unless that's what you're into, be prepared for boredom.
Some movies feel like they're made for an older audience (e.g. 'The Bucket List'). 'The Big Year' is one of them. It follows three guys from different walks of life in a year-long competition to see the most species of birds in North America. Narrated by John Cleese, the movie is meant to play out like a nature documentary where the humans are the subjects. Just as narrators do in nature videos, he explains the reason why the humans do the things that we see them do. It's an interesting gimmick, but not used very well.
The ensemble story features Jack Black as a 40-year-old divorcee who's decided to spend all of his life savings and max out his credit cards in order to fulfill his lifelong dream of doing a "Big Year." Owen Wilson plays the returning champion who fears someone may beat his record 732 species sightings, so he ditches his pregnant wife (Rosamund Pike) for the majority of the year to do the only thing he thinks he's good at – birding. And Steve Martin plays the third major character, a successful businessman who wants to kick off his retirement by following his dream of full-time birding for one calendar year. From different walks of life and participating in the competition for different reasons, each one is put to the test over the course of their Big Year.
I'm no birder and I'd never heard of the informal competition until seeing this movie, but I'm pretty sure there aren't as many people out there doing Big Years as the film shows. These people take an expensive, year-long time-out from life to travel all over North America chasing rare birds. The movie makes it out to be a speedy competitive sport where the same few hundred people keep bumping into one another over the continent.
By looking at the cast of 'The Big Year,' you'd expect it to be great. The leading actors aren't the only ones with potential. Co-starring Joel McHale, Kevin Pollak, Dianne Wiest, Brian Dennehey, Anthony Anderson, Jim Parsons, Anjelica Huston, Tim Blake Nelson and Rashida Jones, you'd expect a lot - but it never delivers. A cast with this much potential deserves a lot more than this.
There are several technical problems that turn the movie into a jumbled mess. First off, why is there an extended cut of this movie that is touted for containing "outrageous" and "unrated" content? The movie is PG, so how outrageous can the three additional minutes of unrated content be? The extended scenes in the film are barely noticeable. We follow a CG hummingbird during its travels over the Big Year which, of course, is narrated by Cleese.
Another problem with the storytelling lies within that same narration. Two thirds of the film feature the Cleese voice-over, but the final act suddenly switches over and we get Black's narration. Why a single character of a three-way ensemble is suddenly handed to point-of-view is beyond me. When you watch the deleted scenes, you'll see that this wasn't originally the case, but for some reason the torch was passed along, making Black's character the central one.
Audiences under the age of 60 aren't going to hate 'The Big Year,' but they sure aren't going to love it either. It's long (at least it feels long), slow, formulaic, cheesy, and it drags. Older viewers, however, may enjoy it. It's a lightweight, feel-good movie that they can connect with – especially the Steve Martin character. But it's far from something I can recommend to all audiences.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has place 'The Big Year' in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack, the Blu-ray being a Region A locked BD-50. The two-disc eco-friendly keepcase slides vertically into a slick cardboard slipcase. The typical pre-menu content plays upon inserting the disc – a firmware disclaimer, a Fox vanity reel, an FBI warning and trailers for 'In Time' and 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' – before giving you the option of choosing the theatrical cut or the extended cut of 'The Big Year.'
'The Big Year' has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Based on how good the Fox vanity reel looks at the start of the movie, I expected the rest of the film to follow suit – but it rarely does.
The film is made like a nature video that outwardly observes human behavior – but it rarely carries the high quality we've come to expect from nature films after 'Planet Earth' upped the ante. Detail is visible, but the picture is hardly as sharp as it should be. Some of the B-roll footage of nature is top notch, but the ratio of those to mediocre shots is wide. The only consist quality between nature and other footage is the lively amount of color, which is always vibrant and perfectly saturated.
Blacks are too strong, removing detail that lies within black objects or shadows. Heads of dark hair are strandless masses like that of a Ken doll. Steve Martin dons a black turtleneck in one of the opening scenes and the material of it appears to be the fur of one of the featureless aliens in 'Attack the Block.'
DNR, banding, artifacts and edge enhancement are not issues, but aliasing frequent in corduroy clothing, tight patterns on neckties, Joel McHale's perfect hair, Owen Wilson's silly fedoras and close-ups of bird feathers. There are also about a dozen scenes that feature mild noise.
Following suit with the mediocrity of the movie and the video quality is the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. At times it's good, but could always be better.
During the expected called-for moments, the audio track is fantastic. Nature effects – chirping birds, flowing water, falling rain, blowing wind – are always great. They make use of all channels. Combine that with crisp, clean vocals and well-balanced and well-spread music and the lossless track is great – but the whole movie doesn't take place in environments that warrant such audio.
All too often, the audio doesn't go the extra mile to sound the way that it does during the exemplary scenes. Imaging sounds don't flow as seamlessly as we've become accustomed to. It ultimately feels like a lifeless track that features scattered moments of reality, nothing outstanding.
'The Big Year' isn't a terrible film, but we surely expect more from the cast involved. Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, and Rashida Jones have never been less funny than they are here. I compare it to 'The Bucket List' - neither are terrible films, but they're fluffy and lightweight, clearly made for older audiences. Following around three (mostly) likeable characters, there isn't a lot of outward conflict for the trio. Each has his own inner hurdle to deal with – which doesn't always make for the most gripping of stories. The false intensity thrown in as a climax doesn't bring the film to as tight a close as it should have. As for the Blu-ray itself, neither the video nor audio qualities meet the high-def standard we all expect. The deleted scenes aren't anything to gawk about and the gag reel is mildly amusing, but the making-of featurette is more interesting and entertaining than the movie itself. Unless you're a birder, a fan of the book, or a lover of 'The Bucket List,' this Blu-ray is a mere rental.